10/14/21: _The Piano Teacher_ and the (Unintelligible) End of Analysis

The Piano Teacher Blu-ray (La pianiste)
An image depicting Erika’s demand for Walter to fulfill her sexual fantasy

The truth of Freudian psychoanalysis lays in the revelations that occur when the analysand is able to untangle the signifiers that enunciate his/her subjective history, and thus to the ambivalence of desire that characterizes his/her (infantile and thus projected) relations. Lacanian psychoanalysis, however, veers towards the end of analysis as the analysand’s identification with the sinthome, aptly described by Slavoj Zizek as “the point which functions as the ultimate support of the subject’s consistency” (Zizek, “The Undergrowth of Enjoyment,” 24). Lacan’s departure in the direction of the sinthome as the non/anti-subjective identificatory substance of enjoyment is prescribed through the phantasmatic act of the crossing of the fundamental fantasy in analysis itself. To become the objet petit a, or the residual excess, of desire is predicated on the absolutely singular act of (something like) a Kantian freedom that shatters the belief in the existence of the Other of the Other. As can be told from the extreme wording of this Event, this end of analysis is a fantasy in its own right, begging the question of, as Freud writes on, the potential interminability of analysis. But precisely this Lacanian fantasy enjoys its status as a fantasy situated at the limits of the encounter of the Real, unanalyzable, as opposed to the analyzable fantasy that sets up the analysand’s Symbolic world around a particular form of jouissance. So the question of the Lacanian sinthome is the question of fantasy, subjective autonomy, and fantasy’s relation to the Real. Michel Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, a film Zizek interprets in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, is narratively indicative of (sexual) fantasy’s violent eruption into the Real when performed in the domain of the Symbolic, and thus helpful in distinguishing between subjective fantasy and the analytic fantasy of the sinthome.

The Piano Teacher‘s plot features the eponymous character, Erika Kohut, whose sexual repression, based in her abusive relationship with her controlling mother, leads symptomatically to her sexual jouissance in voyeurism and sadomasochism. As she begins to become sexually involved with her adolescent student, Walter Klemmer, Erika is able to express and request her sexual fantasies, which include a violent rape fantasy. By the end of the film, Walter, who was once audibly disgusted with her rape fantasy, acts on it as it is told to him, leaving Erika with the realization of her desire, the outcome being a catatonic state. Fundamentally, the ending of the film reads as a commentary on Lacanian jouissance, and what Freud describes as the primal “ambivalent emotional attitude” (Freud, “Totem and Taboo,” 493) of desire; and yet, if Lacan’s end of analysis is one contingent on identification with the sinthome, which figures as the “outrageous kernel of its mindless enjoyment” (Zizek, 27), how is the sinthome fundamentally different from the harmful jouissance of Erika, or the analysand? While the sinthome begs to be unanswerable in a simple blog post, what can be said about it is its singularity in its truth-making with the analysand, and thus its inability of being positioned in the analyzable chain of causal determinations. To refer back to The Piano Teacher, if Erika’s paraphilias are analytically interpretable through the Symbolic world surrounding her, in the subject-positions of her mother, her occupation, her obsession with porno shops, or whatever else, the sinthome that results from analysis is the “meaningless fragment of the Real” (11) that changes the analysand’s relationship to his/her desire, its sublimated drive, and thus jouissance itself. This is not to say that the “freedom” one experiences at the end of analysis is “freedom” in the mainstream frame of understanding, but instead is a “freedom” that is, as Lacan defines, “extimate” to the psychoanalytic subject. Neither purely chosen by the subject’s psyche, nor a reproach towards the Other, the extimate sinthome is the Event that cuts through the analysand’s chain of signifiers and catapults him/her to the status of the Real. Despite this identification with the sinthome being a fantasy in its own right, this Lacanian fantasy is one ethically circumferential to the Real of being a human subject, and results in not a cure, but an odd autonomy unable to be clearly defined contemporarily.

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